I came upon the Serpent seated on a gilded chair with her ladies around her, engaged in embroidering a magnificent altar cloth made of cloth of gold and purple velvet. She wore a silver dress made of heavy brocade that reflected the blood-red rubies at her throat and on her fingers. She looked up as I came in, but did not rise.
“Good Morrow, Mother.” She signaled to her ladies to put the altar cloth away, bring in cups of warmed spiced wine, and refreshments in the form of oranges, figs and nuts.
I waved away the refreshments, drew myself up to my full height, and coughed to clear my throat. “I wish to talk to you…”
“…about your sister’s forthcoming nuptials?” The Serpent leaned back in her chair as she started to peel an orange with a small bejeweled dagger. While she talked, the blade flashed as it went in and out, separating the peel from the sweet, luscious fruit within.
“I cannot allow it to happen.”
“And what does your sister say?” asked the Serpent as she flashed her blade.
I hesitated. The room was rustling with the sounds of the ladies putting the altar-cloth away, and of their heavy skirts dragging across Turkish carpets as they took up position around their mistress. I looked into a sea of staring eyes.
The Serpent paused, holding the dagger balanced between thumb and finger, and studied me for a moment. “Your sister is older than you, is she not: Surely old enough to decide her own fate.”
A murmur of laughter ran around the room.
“When I told her of my plans, she seemed delighted. As I remember, she called my brother John a sweet boy. So I made the old dame happy. What is wrong with that?”
“You know what is wrong,” said I, my voice rising. My sister Cath was a lady of sixty-seven years. The Serpent’s brother John was a callow youth of nineteen!
The Serpent delicately finished with the last swirl of orange peel, put her dagger down and stared back at me. “My sweet brother is delighted to make your sister happy. Your sister is happy with my choice of bridegroom, so what could your objection be?” She paused for a moment, put her hand to her head, and frowned in concentration as her ladies tittered behind their hands. She looked up. “It couldn’t be my brother’s…bloodlines, now could it?”
I glared at her. How dare she mock me like that! I was legitimately concerned about joining any person of my family with such upstarts as the Woodvilles.
The Serpent leaned forward. “Perhaps it would help, Mother, if I told you more about Maman, my mother…”
“Your mother?” I could not help myself, I spat the words out. “She was the cause of a great scandal! She was the King’s aunt, and she married well beneath her…”
“That is true,” replied the Serpent easily, twirling her goblet gently between her fingers. “She was merely following the dictates of her heart in marrying my father.” She raised her eyes to look straight at me. “Some ladies, Mother, wish for more choice in their lives…as you must surely know…”
I bit my lip again as she let that hang in the dead silence that followed.
But she was talking again. “Are you not descended from Queen Alainor of Acquitaine?”
“Indeed I am descended from Queen Alainor.”
“And would you have been happy if your son, the King, had married one of Queen Alainor’s descendants?” remarked the Serpent rising.
“Indeed, yes,” I replied, gripping the back of a chair, for everything was heaving, as if I were sailing on a ship.
The serpent turned slightly, her silver dress fanning out across the floor in a curling wave. She smiled. “You see, Mother, your son was dutiful after all: I also am descended from Queen Alainor.”
–Cynthia Haggard writes short stories, novels and poetry. During the day, she is a medical writer and owns her own business. For more on her creative writing, go to spunstories. For more about her medical writing services, go to clarifyingconcepts. (c) 2009. All rights reserved.